Listen To Children…

by Sara Zacuto

“Trust children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”
~John Holt

Since becoming the parent educator here at Little Owl, my role in facilitating project work with the children has diminished. It’s something I truly miss. But a while back I began a project all on my own. It started with a simple desire to share meaningful quotes with our parents. I wanted to post them around the school as provocations for dialogue within our community, and also to provide accessible talking points that promote critical thinking about child development. I printed photos of the children and would include a relevant thought or idea from the wealth of great thinkers I know about and admire…people like Janet Lansbury, Bev Bos, Alfie Kohn, Heather Shumaker, Brené Brown, Fred Rogers and many, many more.

They looked like this:


After I’d made a few, it became evident that this was a powerful way to frame the learning that was going on everyday in our school. It became a simple way to document the children and show people the purposeful, productive and enriching play that was happening in every corner of our school. I wanted people to look at children running, digging, pouring water, or climbing, with new eyes and gain a deeper understanding of what was really happening for the children in every photo.

They weren’t “just playing.”

They were working on forming new relationships, taking physical and emotional risks, solving problems, testing boundaries, imagining, hypothesizing, figuring out how things worked, building, deconstructing, creating, moving their bodies in novel ways, engaging their senses, thinking, feeling, constructing concrete knowledge and a million, million more…

There are always going to be people who doubt that children are capable of learning without being “taught.” There are people who look for proof, or some sort of product to take home at the end of a day that ensures something was learned. I think this has to do with many varying factors…fear-based societal and cultural pressures, a deep and systemic flaw that promotes testing kids relentlessly (because knowledge MUST be measured or it doesn’t exist!), competitive parents who feel like they want their child to “succeed”, and a simple misunderstanding of what children really need…TRUST.



It is hard to step back and trust young children, because it requires relinquishing control. Letting go of our desired outcomes, of our expectations being met, and focusing on the child’s expectations instead, feels nearly impossible. This boils down to trusting children, and not just their capabilities. It’s easier to trust that a child is learning when they are active, motivated and busy, but trusting them even when they appear to be doing nothing? That’s hard. Trusting that they might be in a period of reflection, taking things in, thinking, or really needing to be accepted as an introvert, is something we are not socially conditioned to do. There is a wonderful Ted Talk about introverts here.

Trusting children became the message that was ringing loudest in all the quotes I was drawn to. The more quotes I gathered, the more it became clear that they needed to be compiled into a book, and feature a photo of every child in our school to carry the strong message to trust their learning. After a couple months, I had completed it. It is a collection of images and ideas that promote an image of children as capable, trustworthy, self-driven learners. It’s what I absolutely believe about them, and want to shout from the mountaintops.


As with every project I’ve worked on, I wanted to get input from the children…hear their ideas, and include their voices. I knew our annual art auction was coming up, so I decided that putting a quote on a canvas would be a perfect contribution. I grappled with which quote to choose. I thought it had to be simple, eloquent, and profound. I wanted it to encapsulate the very essence of children…a tall order. I figured I’d present a few to the kids and let them choose which one worked best. A few quotes stuck out to me, until (ding! and duh!)…TRUST CHILDREN. Even I forget sometimes…or need to challenge myself to trust even more.

What would they put on a canvas?

What do they have to say?

What is the idea they want to put across?

I came up with the right question to ask them:

“What do you want grown-ups to know about children?”

The conversation was actually quite brief. The very first idea came about when a child said “You should listen to kids, and do the stuff they want to do” and another chimed in “listen to them when they talk to you…”  So that became simply, “Listen to children.”

The next idea came just as quickly when I felt a tug on my shirt and bent down to hear the secret that was being whispered in my ear…“let them laugh and play.”

I don’t know if it was the whispering, or the idea, but shivers went down my back when I heard it.


It was perfect.

Here is a peek at our process of creating the canvas:


I brought the question to our afternoon gathering to hear more about what the children believed. And since there were so many more ideas and no more room on our big canvas, we decided to make another little one expanding on the topic about what grown-ups should “let kids” do. The kids, of course, had LOTS to say…


Listen up grown-ups!

This is what our children want us to know!

This is what they want for themselves.

They want to dance, jump, climb and skip!

They want to draw and play, kick soccer balls and make books!

To put on their own shoes and say poop!

Paint, sew, get messy, dig and hug!

They want to run free, and do nothing…to solve problems and smell roses!

They want to know they can do anything…they want to be heard.

And they want to be trusted.


4 thoughts on “Listen To Children…

  1. What a wonderful, inspired, pair of projects. Seeing what the children expressed here makes me think that, at least in this particular case, truth is beauty and beauty is truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was curious as to how these pieces got inspired. Thank you for sharing the beautiful story of its creation. I think your point to trusting children is fundamentally rooted in us all, but it takes a breaking away from the misteachings that we have all endured, as you said. We have to reconnect with our inner voices and allow our children space to do the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a child care provider I see this all the time. Even a simple argument needs to be worked out. I am there to provide words if and when needed. Boundaries are still followed but there is plenty of freedom.


  4. I love all of your writings, Sara – this particular one had me alternating between tears and laughter. I very much enjoyed learning how this art work was created. And the messages from the children are priceless. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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